Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion – Being Unable to Let Go.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion movie -  Akemi Homura animeLast week I’ve finally had the chance to watch the long-awaited Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie 3: Rebellion, known in Japanese as Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: Hangyaku no Monogatari (Story of the Rebellion). Wait, what?! Third movie? Where did that come from? That had been my thoughts when the third film had been announced.

The first two movies are a recap of the 12 episode series, with better visuals but a worse story – they cut on some of the nuances, the nuances which are all that give the third movie anything to stand on. I strongly suggest watching the series instead of the film, it’s only 40 minutes longer. The story told within the series and first two movies is complete and self-contained, so much so that Madoka Magica is a series I consider to be one of the best anime series I’ve ever watched – everything tying up thematically plays a large part of it.

When the film had been announced, as true fans of the series, many of us had been excited and curious to see what the new film will bring about. Curious, and filled with a slight sense of unease, that the film is “merely” trying to make more money, and is nothing but fan-service. A few months ago the movie had been released in the states and opinions had been divided between the movie being great, the movie being a fan-service-directed money-grab, and opinions thinking that both are true.

(I’m going to spoil the entirety of the Madoka franchise, from the series to the third film, beyond this point.)

The reason I actually dwelt on all of the above isn’t as background for the film, but because this write-up will actually focus on said aspects, and rather than try to condemn or praise the people behind the movie for these things, my point is that they are aware of that point, and actually use the movie to address and discus them. This movie, to me, is a letter from the writer, Gen Urobuchi, to the viewers of the films, to the fan of the series, and is almost an ars poetic piece. I liken it to Hideaki Anno and Evangelion 3.33. In my write-up for said movie, I argued that Anno had been trolling the fans, but my point here isn’t that Urobuchi is trolling us, but that the sort of discussion he engages in with the fans (that is, us), is only possible because we are fans who are familiar with the source material.

A Fly in the Ointment:

Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

Paradise Lost I: 250-255, John Milton

Before we go any deeper, the movie opens with a weird musical piece and our heroines fighting off a monster, while it’s also clear that they’re playing along with what is a witch, their enemies from the first two films. This opening and the movie as a whole shows the director Akiyuki Shinbo going all-out with his unique style. We then see Madoka waking up in her house, and waking up her mother, just as she did in the first film, before greeting the new student at school, Akemi Homura.

The movie is a mindscape/dreamscape film, of the sort I enjoy, films of this nature include Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Guy Ritchie’s The Matador, Vanilla Sky, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Quite often in these films we enter a world where everything seems normal or just slightly off, but as things progress we see things that either contradict our notions of the world, or don’t add up, and as the movie progresses, more things don’t add up.

It is here that Rebellion is the closest it is to Evangelion 3.33, for from the get-go, we keep thinking, “Wait, just what is going on? Madoka had transcended last we’ve seen her, she no longer exists here, and even if she did, why are all these characters being so chummy with a witch?!” We have a fly in our ointment, and we know things are not going according to plan. This is important, because what the film opens with is exactly what we supposedly had wanted – more time with our cast, and this time everything seems to go according to fans’ wishes, based on online discussions, fan-fiction, and fan-art – we have lesbian overtones between Miki Sayaka and Sakura Kyouko; Tomoe Mami is alive and eats cakes, and everyone is having a pleasant time of things.

Everything is as we always wanted it to be, and yet we keep looking for a way out, because things just seem so wrong. This is an important bit about fan-fiction. Fan-fiction often gives us more time with the characters, redoes or even undoes the ending, but while we enjoy fan-fiction, part of the reason we’ve enjoyed the original material enough to produce or consume fan-fiction is because it did not bite back. There is a reason “And then they woke up and it was all a dream” is such a terribly-regarded ending, because it undoes the travails of the characters, and cheapens their sacrifices. Akemi Homura is a perfect example of how undoing things can be done without erasing the hardships, and just mounting it up, as it takes its toll on the time-traveler.

We are Homura – We are Satan:

Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

Paradise Lost I: 261-263, John Milton

Ah, yes, Akemi Homura. The time-traveler. Akemi Homura is our voice within the movie. Akemi Homura of our world is the one who had missed Madoka above all others, and the one who had maintained memories of her, and yet she is the one who cannot accept this idyllic atmsophere, whose very core screams in anguish that this is but a lie, that this is not how the world should be, and that this cheapens Madoka’s sacrifice, for the sake of humanity, for the sake of all magical girls, and for the sake of Homura herself.

Homura is conflicted. She wants to live in this world, and yet she wants to vanquish the witch. It is a very common thing for villains in anime to want to maintain the status quo, to erase the world, to stop further movement, just so they could spend more time with those they care about. All too often a villain is born when they want to unwind time to bring back one they had lost. Homura wants to kill the witch, who dared undo Madoka’s sacrifice. All of this is very close to Homura’s arc from the series as well – she undid time, time and time again in order to try and save Madoka. In the film, Sayaka Miki accuses her that she’s too quick to escape to “her own frozen world” where nothing can advance, using her magic.

And then we find that Homura is the witch. And here is the moment where Homura is our voice, where Homura is our embodiment, is made important. To deny change, to try and repeat the story? These are the goals of a villain. These are also the goals of fan-fiction, and an accusation against the fans who had perhaps not demanded, but had been overjoyed at the resurrection of the franchise with the third film. We have robbed Madoka of her noble sacrifice. We had robbed Homura of her eternal solitude, in an attempt to provide a “happy ending”. The witch is the villain; we are Homura; and so we are the villain of this meta-narrative, we are those who had brought back Madoka and wrought this fake world. We, and Urobuchi will not let us forget it, even as he also accuses himself who is of course complicit in this action as well. While the wish had been ours, the creation of the “labyrinth” where Madoka is now trapped is entirely his creation, his and the other people who had birthed Madoka.

This film is called “Rebellion”. Madoka at the end of the series had transformed into “God”, as Kyubei himself had noted. In English, her final form is often called “Godoka” and in Japanese, “Madokami”. The rebellion is of Homura against Madoka. Where Homura willingly embraces the role of “Satan” if that means she will spend more time with Madoka. She is willing to, as she says, betray her own wish, if that means she will save Madoka from her loneliness, and more importantly, save herself from her loneliness.

On the Circuitry of Humanity:

Secure from outward force; within himself
The danger lies, yet lies within his power:
Against his will he can receive no harm
But God left free the will;

Paradise Lost IX: 348-351, John Milton

Though it is revealed very late in the series, Madoka is a story where time-travel plays an important part, especially in Homura’s emotional arc. Homura’s wish is to undo time so she could save Madoka. Literally, she had succeeded, and in order to avoid a time-pradox in a universe where Madoka had never existed, she retains some memories of the other universe, where she still made her wish of saving Madoka. In so-doing, and in so-being, Homura is a transgressive existence, who crosses the boundaries of morality.

Homura’s wish had supposedly been to save Madoka, and had now been inverted. But if you think about it, Homura’s wish was to repeat time and spend time with Madoka. That Madoka’s end had always been terrible is almost besides the point, because Homura got to spend time with her. Her Pyrrhic victory had removed Madoka from her forever, as well as any hope for a happy, normal life for Madoka. Her binding down Madoka to her life, to the repeating the cycle forevermore is not betraying her wish, but merely an outgrowth of it.

Urobuchi had called the fans “Satan”, for their willingness to render a story with an ending into one that forever repeats itself (for what else is rewatching a series religiously?), and in so doing had expressed some anger with us, but that does not mean he had not also shown us a sense of admiration. Aside from Madoka, some of the works Urobuchi is known for authoring are Fate/Zero, Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet), and Psycho-Pass. All deal with what it means to be human, and all stress the element of choice. Humans are despicable for the very same reason that they are worthy of respect, for their divine gift of free will.

Which brings me to the end of the movie, and the closing of this article. The movie has two endings. In the first, Akemi Homura transforms into an akuma (demon), into Satan, and casts down Madoka from her position as God, and accepts that she will damn her and the world in order to spend more time with her. This is a beautiful and touching moment, and an ending on par with the series’. And then, we have another “ending”, which is more like the first twenty minutes of the fourth movie (which is coming). We once more repeat the cycle, with the girls coming to school, and the introduction of a transfer student. This time it is Madoka who transfers in, but it is still Homura who walks with her to the nurse’s office, and discusses the world with her.

I wasn’t all too happy with the inclusion of these twenty minutes. While I didn’t have a problem with them per se, but I had a problem that it was here, and robbed us of our “ending”. It felt like a sort of money-grab, of “You can’t have an ending! Watch movie 4!”, but then it led me to the realization that is this whole piece. The first episode of the series is the end of one cycle and beginning of a second. The beginning of this film is the beginning of yet another cycle. The end of the film? That’s another cycle. Homura is unable to let Madoka go. Homura is unable to let Madoka have an ending. We are Homura. The fans are unable to let the work of fiction go. The non-ending ending? It is there to show us that our wish is to meet with Madoka, and to avoid any possible ending. The film ended just as the series had began – not with an ending, but with a beginning.

If I had to rate this movie, it’s somewhere around a weird low 9/10 never-ending stories, but at times I think it belongs more along the realm of an 8, and at other times I want to shower it with both a 7 and a 10. This movie is interesting on a visual level, on some story-levels (but the overall plot-structure is a bit basic), and extraordinarily interesting on its meta-analysis levels or when you try to reconcile it with the series. Like it or not, I think watching this film and then engaging with others on all the various takes on it is a very interesting and rewarding experience.

22 comments on “Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion – Being Unable to Let Go.

  1. Bobduh says:

    I like it. Casting the last twenty minutes as an in-universe reflection of the flawed, fabricated universe we Homuras have demanded is great. And while it’s clearly not as graceful as the cycle of the original, it’s actually fascinating to think this is actively addressing the process of fan mythologizing and recontextualizing as its own inescapable “law of the cycle” – the cycle of new media, where art is becoming an amorphous and possibly inherently broken two-way street.

    • Guy says:

      I think I like this reading so much because it’s both intensely Doylian and Watsonian (out of world, and in-world, respectively).

      I thought you’d get a kick out of my take how Urobuchi feels about Homuras, or humans.

  2. Falconhaxx says:

    I’m probably going to write an essay of my own on Rebellion when I can find the time and energy to do so, but I couldn’t resist commenting on this, especially when it comes to the “ending” of the film.

    If this movie had been made in a universe where Urobuchi has full control over the entire Madoka franchise and he doesn’t want to write more Madoka, I’m guessing that Rebellion would have ended with the scene where Madoka comes down from the heavens to give the dying Homura her final peace. In this scenario, Homura would accept her death and gladly go with Madoka, because she knows that all things, good or bad, must come to an end. For added(tear-inducing) effect, we could also have had Kyouko having a chance to say goodbye to Sayaka.

    The point of my guess is that this is how I guessed it would end while I was watching the movie. The scenes after this did make some sense to me, but they felt wrong. It felt like everything was being undone. And, in my opinion, it kind of was. Homura and Madoka swapped roles, Sayaka came back to life, but being Homura is still suffering. To be honest, I could not see a logical reason for restoring the status quo beside leaving the ending open for continuation. Or maybe Urobuchi really can’t write happy endings(not even ones where the main characters all die).

    I liked Rebellion very much, but not as much as the original series, and if they ever make a 4th movie, I’m fairly sure that I won’t enjoy its story.

  3. q_3 says:

    That’s a very interesting take on the movie. Homura can definitely be likened to a fanfic author – she apparently even likes to ship her friends with each other!

    But in the specific context of the Madoka fandom, I really think that Kyubey is the audience (and author) surrogate in the film. Before Rebellion, the fandom consensus was that the story should and would end with Madoka taking Homura to heaven so they could be together forever. Indeed, most of those who are unhappy with Rebellion are unhappy in large part because that didn’t happen!

    So who in the film is the one tasked with defending that position? Kyubey, who was so certain he would get his tragic ending that he, like we, never stopped to consider what the characters wanted for themselves. Kyubey, who when Homura derails the story he had in mind, is flummoxed and, like we, would really rather just forget the whole thing and go home. Kyubey, who at the end of the film is just as baffled and upset as we are.

    We wanted a straightforward, conclusive, bittersweet ending that would make us cry and fill us with hope. What we got was confusing, open-ended, and unsatisfying – to us, but not necessarily to the characters. Homura’s true rebellion is against the audience, not on behalf of it.

    • Guy says:

      I think the fandom is split. Fans want the story to end, because they don’t want it to go to shit, but fans also don’t want the story to end, which is where all the fan-fic comes from. Some fans belong to both of these desires concurrently, while others belong to only one club and hate the other side’s position as “ruining their show”, and some of the way people react to the third film has something to do with it as well.

      I don’t think Kyuubei is the audience stand-in, though that’s an interesting take on it. Kyuubei didn’t want Homura to end up in heaven with Madoka. Kyuubei didn’t care. Kyuubei wanted to manipulate Homura so he could cast down Madoka from the heavens. In Kyuubei’s world, no one is happy. Madoka’s sacrifice undone, Homura and Madoka robbed of their good ending… no, no one would have liked Kyuubei’s end. Kyuubei’s end to me would put us in a gnostic position, worse than where we’ve been.

      By the by, the whole film could be seen as being carried out in the gnostic tradition. Homura here is Michael, who had created the world where things are pleasant, and Kyuubei is the unseen devil who is tormenting us behind the scenes.

      Also, I am not saying Homura is rebelling “For” the audience in the simple sense, where she accomplishes our wishes in her outcome. She’s accomplishing our wishes by reviving the cast and bringing them all together. Homura’s stand-in Rebellion for the fans? It’s everything from minute-1 onward. The whole situation is her/us rebelling.

      And as I said in the piece itself, that we end up with a “shit ending”? I think that’s part of it. That’s Urobuchi’s answer to you, and to the fans, “You can bring back the franchise, but not only will it undo some of the pretty closure we’ve had before, things will become increasingly messy.” You can rebel, but then you will end up in hell. We ended up in the no-closure hell, for our rebellion.

      We got what we asked for, but not what we wanted.

  4. rikuo06 says:

    A thoughtful article on the meta “dialogue-with-the-fandom” layer of the movie. My thoughts directly after watching the movie were quite similar, including the comparison to Eva 3.0. However, in the months since then, continued contemplation and reading other’s analyses have led me through many more layers and interpretations of this film, and even of the original series.

    Most people who had issues with the ending would have preferred Homura to have never turned against Madoka, instead accepting “salvation” and being taken to magical girl “heaven.” (Of course, this would totally ignore the whole point of “Rebellion,” and would simply be a depiction of what most of fandom imagined was the foregone conclusion of the original series.) I find it interesting that you accepted Homura becoming akuma, but had problems with the last twenty minutes depicting the new world she created. I personally found that ending absolutely essential, and not just as a sequel hook (I’ve heard no official announcements yet for a continuation or another movie) or even a meta-message about fandom not being able to accept closure (though I agree with the importance of cycles as a running motif). Ending the movie directly after Homura’s betrayal would be a disaster thematically: it would say that selfishness wins, completely nullifying the solution that Madoka’s selflessness was able to forge at the end of the original series. It would be as much a kick in the balls of the fandom that Eva 3.0 was. The last portion of the movie clarifies several important things: that Homura’s hold over Madoka cannot last forever, that they would likely become enemies when her hold breaks, that she is actually working behind the scenes with regards to Kyubey and the entropy problem and not throwing away all responsibilities to spend more time with Madoka. In fact, that is one of the key realizations that I feel some people are missing. Homura rebelled not in order to make Madoka her own, but to give Madoka the opportunity to live out a normal life. Otherwise, she would have gladly accepted Madoka taking her away to the so-called-by-fans “Yuri Valhalla.” The ending makes us question the line between selfishness and selflessness, and where Homura falls.

  5. Fufer says:

    Mm.. I started reading but then it seemed like you went into spoiler territory without any warnings…

    • Guy says:

      Welp, I was sure I noted I’m going to spoil the whole series and the film in its entirety, but guess it stuck in my head. I’ll add that in. I also drew the introduction a bit longer than usual so the spoilers will be beyond the jump, but I planned it so much I forgot to actually do it.

      Sorry.

  6. froggykun says:

    Ironically, what I enjoyed most about this film was how indulgent it was. I’d never taken the Madoka franchise fully seriously, and by the time I saw the film I had completely put the idea that it was a “deconstruction” or anything like that out of my mind. I enjoyed it for its fanfic-y, fan-pandering nature, convinced that I’d finally found the “true” Madoka.

    Then, of course, the last twenty minutes happened.

    Urobuchi got me good there. HE GOT ME GOOD.

    Anyway, I liked how you linked the essentially fan-pandering nature of this film to its ending, as I also thought the ending was conceptualised on that level. Kudos for going into depth with the symbolism there. I never really picked up on this stuff at all.

    • Guy says:

      If anything, those last twenty minutes filled the fan-fic crowd with a whole new arsenal of ideas and situations to build off of, heh.

      I wonder, is there a true Madoka? Some would say a truly great story is great because everything adds up and nothing is left loose, so to speak, but if that is true, it also means there should be “One True Interpretation™”. And yet, there are so many layers on which one can appreciate and analyze Madoka.

      And that is doubly true for the film. Does it make it better? Does it make it worse? It surely makes it more interesting to discuss with others, as you can see so many different takes, and agree with them, at least to a degree.

  7. Benja says:

    Interesting point of view

    I sort of like it

    As a Madoka Magica Fan, I have to say, I am already waiting for another Movie, because, as you say, it can’t have an ending, we don’t want it to end it. “We are Homura. The fans are unable to let the work of fiction go.”

    Nicely done ;D

  8. gwalter says:

    wow. you’re retarded if you think this is remotely relevant to the content of the movie. you made up some bullshit because of your shallow understanding of the movie’s complex themes and oversimplified it to suit your stupidity by making it sound pretentious. it really was 3deep5you

  9. […] Rebellion, we, the fans, became Homura. Unable to let go of our love for Madoka, we “dragged down” Madoka from the depths of […]

  10. […] Puella Magi Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion (Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari) – This was an experience. Certainly a spectacle. A mindscape film, an artistic film, a fan-pleaser, or a fan-despoiler? Is it Matrix 2, or Matrix 3? The amount of discussion about this film online is quite large, and it’s interesting to see in what direction every person takes it. I took it to a meta-commentary on fandom direction, which you can read here. […]

  11. […] Another thing to note with Rebellion Story is that it is a sequel movie to the series, and only confirms the romantic (at least on one side) nature of the relationship then… indicating that the original show was too afraid to press the Actual Queer Love Story button, for fear of the reaction and a possible bad, gay mark against their name. Now that they’re writing to a pre-established fanbase, they know what to lean on. Does that make it fan service, then? Is it still representation if it’s just to please the viewers? Was it really worth all that emotional build-up and teasing if you were just going to make their canon relationship a cosmically abusive one?! Is that in itself spitting in the fans’ faces for wanting it? […]

  12. […] is something I’ve thought about before (and other people have certainly written about) so I won’t peer at the concept of […]

  13. Pepsi says:

    This is a little late, but don’t you think Homura had more of a motive than “wanting to spend time with Madoka?” After all, if she let herself go with Madoka, she would have been able to spend all the time she wanted with her and it would have been much simpler. I think the key to the Homura’s motive is in the scene where she’s telling Madoka about her “dream’ where Madoka disappeared. Madoka said she would never choose to go off to a place by herself where she couldn’t see her friends and family anymore. And Homura had a look of realization on her face, and also said that she should have tried harder to stop Madoka, and that she believed these were Madoka’s true feelings.

    It seemed to me that Homura took this to heart and wanted to pull Madoka back to the world where she could be with her family and friends again. Her motives weren’t entirely selfless, since she does want to spend time with Madoka. But I do believe she still (as always) had Madoka’s interests at heart.

  14. HyperFreakNation says:

    Look at me, replying so long after, oh well!

    If the opinions expressed in the article are true, then that might explain why I personally feel indifferent to the movie.

    You see, I’ve never been a fan of the anime-fandom. The whole “let’s discuss power-ups or who looks cuter instead of the writing” has never sit well with me. After I watched the series of 12 episodes, I was content as ever before. I didn’t want more. I thought a tight narrative had been ended the best way possible.

    As I watched the movie I thought to myself “well, this is very neat and analyzable”, but I can’t shake the feeling of “why bother continuing a story that’s so obviously perfected in ep 12”. But again, if the thesis is true, that the movie is indeed a dialog with the fans, and a meta-commentary on fan-fiction, then that very well may mean the movie wasn’t mend for me?

    • Guy says:

      I doubt this is what Shinbo had in mind. I’m pretty sure it’s not. I also suspect Gen Urobuchi would never admit to consciously having this be his goal :P

      Though it still all applies quite well to Homura, which is why I disagree with people who say it didn’t follow from her actions. And that leaves us at a very interesting discussion point – can a show end on a point that feels like it’s a good ending, yet when a follow-up arrive for one to say it’s indeed addressing a “loose end”? I think Madoka shows it can, because the character loose end was part of the theme, and life always continuing was indeed Madoka’s (the character) theme.

      But though I think this is a great way to analyze the movie, what my post outlined, I really doubt it’s consciously what the creators went for. Maaaybe Gen. But hey, it’s not like the authors are everything, because sometimes they too are fans ;-)

  15. RRook says:

    [me = not a native English speaker, so please forbear…]

    Nice read, thank you. I definitely believe as well, that Rebellion is targeting fluffy fan fiction. But i.m.o. the movie does accomplish this already during its first half, where the candy-colored, purrfect world slowly degenerates into a witch’s labyrinth.

    For me, Urobuchi doesn’t seem to be the man who’d waste the screen time of a whole movie in order to “humiliate” his fans – he does this in situ while advancing story arcs. Much more I tend to think that character development was genuinely intended to be that way once after “Rebellion” was decided not to be the end of the franchise.

    In my opinion Homura has done what she could with the best possible outcome in this moment. She also did not betray Madokas legacy – it’s still in place. I do not mind, which kind of intentions are interpreted into Homura by fandom – let the results speak for themselves.

    But there is another reason, why I am looking forward to the atonement… Kyubey. If QB was a human, we would call it psychopatic. I really do not know, whether Urobuchi knows about political ponerology. But when drawing parallels to OUR world, QB is not the only entity letting young idealists fight for goals they do not themselves profit from. Why should we mortals mind whether the universe dies a heat death billions of years after we have died ourselves? It is only immortals like QB who are profiting from the magical girl setting. Or, in order to rephrase it – in our western democracies we are trying to affect constraints which would not exist without our societal path in the first place. QB spouting about efficiency and net gains in the series only adds to that experience.

    However, even if psychopaths are not empathic, they can feel pain induced to themselves as well. They DO react to it. Homura manages to place the QBs into that pain(TM) spot, while both maintaining the yin-yang balance and the law-of-the-cycle (and additionally reviving the whole main cast).

    Thus, QB being the beaten one and our main cast except Homura innocently sympathizing with QB, I wonder where the next universe creation (= set of rules) will take us. This could indeed become a utopia in the end… if it was not Urobuchi being at the helm!

    =)

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